By Sophie Kloos

For lawyers and for adjudicators, ascertaining a potential risk on return may be especially challenging when involving children. Children may not express a fear of return as elaborately as adults, and a very young child may not even have such a fear. In addition, children might find it difficult to describe details beyond their direct experience, for example concerning the names of places, people or organisations. This makes it even more important that up-to-date, relevant Country of Origin information (COI) is considered in cases involving children.

However, there is a significant lack of child-specific COI in the public domain. Ethical research considerations mean children’s voices in research projects are less likely to be heard. Certain human rights abuses affecting children take place in the private sphere and are thus less likely to be reported on. In addition, the situation of adults (more specifically adult men) is generally much better documented by research. Experiences of children may often be ignored, which is partly because of the given difficulties of children to understand or explain the reasons for their persecution or risk of harm.

All of this can make evidencing protection claims for children challenging. This is why we teamed up with ARC Foundation earlier this year to develop a free child-specific COI research training curriculum for legal representatives in the UK and elsewhere, consisting of a series of training webinars and a training handbook. Here we share some of our key research tips from the training:

  1. Put children’s rights at the centre

When assessing a child’s asylum claim and return decision, decision-makers are obliged to apply a child sensitive definition of persecution. This means assessing the harm from a child’s perspective, and acknowledging that what doesn’t qualify as persecution in the case of an adult may well do so in the case of a child. Given that children may be granted asylum in cases where adults won’t, it is crucial that your research centers on the experience of children. Ensure that your research questions sufficiently pay attention to the specific needs of a child. They should be explicitly phrased to ask for the experience of children, or for the experience of an adult with dependent children if applicable.

For children, persecution may be established through an accumulation of a number of less severe violations. Children’s socio-economic needs are often more compelling than those of adults. Therefore it will also be important to pay more attention to the economic, social and cultural conditions for children than you would perhaps for adults in their country of origin. You can consult UNICEF’s “Methodology Guidance on Child Notice” for a detailed picture of what considerations may be relevant. 

  1. Take an intersectional approach

Children who experience discrimination on one ground are more likely to experience discrimination on other grounds as well. Taken together, these multiple forms of discrimination may cause more harm than they would if they were considered separately. In order to acknowledge this effect, please ensure that your research questions are phrased in a way that considers the multiple and cumulative forms of discrimination that may amount to persecution for a child.

When dealing with a case involving a street child experiencing violent abuse, your research should be tailored specifically to the situation of street children experiencing violent abuse. It would not be recommended to research and present evidence on street children separately from evidence about children experiencing violence. Each of these circumstances in itself may be very different from the circumstances of experiencing both forms of persecution together.

  1. Use child-focused COI sources

An intersectional approach can in some cases be challenging as it requires finding sources that are very specific to the claimant’s circumstances. To find relevant information and center your research on the experience of children, it might be helpful to search through research from organisations focusing on children. ARC Foundation has published a collection of relevant COI sources, which can be found by downloading the Thematic COI Sources Toolkit and navigating to the ‘children’s rights’ tab.

  1. Use child-specific terminology in your search

Using a broad range of search terms when undertaking children and young people inclusive research can also help you identify child-specific sources. Examples of English keywords, individually or in strings, could include:

“Adolescent”, “age”, “baby”, “babies”, “boy”, “child*”, “descendent”, “girl”, “infant”, “juvenile”, “kid*”, “lad*”, “lass*”, “newborn”, “minor”, “offspring”, “orphan*”, “preteen”, “schoolboy”, “schoolchild*”, “schoolgirl”, “teen*”, “toddler”, “unaccompanied”, “young person”, “younger people”, “young*”, “youth”.

If you would like to learn more about researching COI for cases involving children and young people, register for our free training webinar on Friday, 3rd December 2021. The webinar is open to legal representatives and NGOs in the UK and elsewhere.

Register Now